DON CURRY

Boxing News - - CONTENTS -

At last, we track down one of the great­est fight­ers of the 1980s

John Evans ĆQDOO\ WUDFNV GRZQ WKH HOXVLYH 'RQ &XUU\ å RQH RI WKH YHU\ EHVW RI WKH JROGHQ ç V

IT is of­ten said that the last thing a boxer loses is his punch. It’s a state­ment I’ve never agreed with. The fear of be­ing for­got­ten is a bat­tle that ev­ery fighter dreads los­ing. Long af­ter any money has gone and the ti­tle belts have lost their shine, the pos­si­bil­ity that they might still pro­voke de­bate and in­flu­ence peo­ple helps in their fight for rel­e­vance. The last thing a fighter loses is their ego.

In the early 1980s, Don Curry was widely re­garded as the great­est fighter on the planet, but for the past 20 years the for­mer uni­fied world wel­ter­weight cham­pion has rarely been heard from and sel­dom seen. Rather than be­ing revered, these days Curry is only ap­pre­ci­ated by Youtube his­to­ri­ans.

At his peak, the “Lone Star Co­bra” jumps off the screen. Curry is poised and pre­cise. Liv­ing up to his nick­name, he rises up tall but re­mains elu­sive, his re­flexes de­tect­ing ev­ery threat and op­por­tu­nity. His punches are fast and ac­cu­rate. His judge­ment of dis­tance and tim­ing are im­mac­u­late. He looks un­beat­able.

When peo­ple de­clare Lloyd Honeyghan’s shock­ing 1986 stop­page of Curry as one of the great­est ever vic­to­ries by a Bri­tish fighter, they aren’t fall­ing vic­tim to hy­per­bole. It gen­uinely was one of the big­gest shocks in box­ing his­tory. It was also the night Curry’s slide into ex­ile re­ally be­gan.

The idea to track down Curry first lodged it­self in my mind as I sat at the Fly­ing Saucer bar in Fort Worth – Curry’s home­town – some five years ago. With ev­ery dead end, I be­gan to won­der if Curry had al­ready lost his bat­tle. That he ac­tu­ally wanted to be for­got­ten. Bizarrely, for a man who val­ues his pri­vacy, the break­through came in the most pub­lic of fo­rums when a lo­cal trainer men­tioned that he had seen a pho­to­graph of a man look­ing sus­pi­ciously like Curry on Face­book. A quick search and a phone call to Curry’s best friend later, I fi­nally had Don’s num­ber. “Ah re­ally? Well, that may be a good thing,” Curry, now 57, told Box­ing News when in­formed how long it had taken to find him. “I’ve been get­ting rid of the angst, I’ve been rest­ing up and I’m ready to go on my next jour­ney. I’m great. I’m do­ing good.

“You know, com­ing down from the heights that I came from in box­ing, I wanted to give my­self time away to rem­i­nisce and think back over my mis­takes and I wanted to un­der­stand what I did good.

“Af­ter my ca­reer I needed a lit­tle rest. Let me get out of the game and get back into so­ci­ety and see what’s go­ing on. When I got back into so­ci­ety, I started pre­par­ing my­self, this time I know what I’m do­ing. I got my mind right and I got my body right. In our cul­ture, if you ain’t good at what you do ain’t no­body go­ing to say too much about you, but if you’re good, you’re go­ing to get some ac­tion. I learned that from box­ing. I came back to the neigh­bour­hood and sharp­ened up my skills. I want to be the best at coach­ing and train­ing. ³

I’VE BEEN GET­TING RID OF THE ANGST. I’M READY TO GO ON MY NEXT JOUR­NEY”

“I got a bit of medicine, I just had to take that medicine prop­erly with box­ing. I’m well now.”

The 1980s were a time of ex­u­ber­ance and ex­cess and ini­tially the eco­nomic and un­der­stated Curry was deemed to be too re­fined for the crude busi­ness of pro­fes­sional prize­fight­ing.

Grow­ing up in the oil rich Fort Worth basin, Curry was a teenage prodigy. By the time he turned pro­fes­sional as a 19-year-old, he had fought 404 times. He had lost just four. Had the USA not de­cided to boy­cott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, Curry would likely have found him­self at the cen­tre of a bid­ding war for his ser­vices. In­stead, the sport’s power­bro­kers be­gan to dig. Rather than look­ing at the ev­i­dence be­fore their eyes, they be­gan pay­ing more and more at­ten­tion to the whis­pers which had be­gun to cir­cu­late the in­dus­try: Curry was soft.

“Well, they found out that they were wrong,” Curry re­mem­bered, his voice a lit­tle deeper and slower. “I could agree. Com­ing from Texas, a south­ern state in Amer­ica, the manners just don’t have a place in box­ing. I’m com­ing with no idea of what a pro­fes­sional is sup­posed to be pre­pared with. I just came with what I had. That’s prob­a­bly why peo­ple said that. If that’s what they saw, that’s what it prob­a­bly was. When it came to fight­ing and get­ting in that ring, we’re throw­ing all that out of the win­dow. You find a lot of char­ac­ters here who are very re­spect­ful. When you come from the South and Texas, that’s just how we are brought up.”

Curry elected to stay loyal to his am­a­teur trainer, Paul Reyes, and ap­pointed lo­cal con­struc­tion busi­ness owner Dave Gor­man as his man­ager. Things went well. Just over three years af­ter turn­ing pro­fes­sional, Curry uni­fied the wel­ter­weight world ti­tle by beat­ing Mar­lon Star­ling in 1984. At a time when Marvin Ha­gler, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks were at their peak, it was Don­ald

Curry, the south­ern gen­tle­man from Fort Worth, who was re­garded as the best fighter on the planet. A coun­try boy can sur­vive.

Curry’s bru­tal two-round de­mo­li­tion of Mil­ton Mccrory may be more spec­tac­u­lar, his uni­fi­ca­tion vic­tory over Star­ling more sig­nif­i­cant, and his stun­ning de­feat at the hands of Honeyghan more no­to­ri­ous, but if the pur­pose of this ar­ti­cle is to rein­tro­duce Don­ald Curry to the box­ing pub­lic, then his 1985 white­wash of Colin Jones in Birm­ing­ham paints the most com­plete pic­ture of the man.

The grace­ful Texan stands amid the tu­mult of the par­ti­san crowd, ev­ery inch the pris­tine gun­slinger who saun­ters through the doors of the bawdy fron­tier town saloon and wipes the rim of his whiskey glass with an em­broi­dered hand­ker­chief. Too fast, too ac­cu­rate and just too good for the brave – and very tal­ented – Welsh­man, Curry some­how seems to emerge from the four-round clinic with­out so much as a drop of blood tar­nish­ing his pale gold shorts.

“Colin Jones is a guy who had a great [rep­u­ta­tion] when I was sched­uled to fight him. This guy was a real fighter. If you go to the Olympics and rep­re­sent your coun­try and al­most medal, you’ve done a good job. I’d seen Colin Jones fight Mil­ton Mccrory and I’d al­ways re­spected Mil­ton. When me and Colin Jones fought, I was over­whelmed that Colin was kind of easy for me. It kind of sur­prised me. Colin had an ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer and I beat him so eas­ily, that struck me. I trained re­ally hard for Colin and Mil­ton Mccrory. If I’d done that right through my ca­reer I prob­a­bly would never have been beaten.

“It didn’t sur­prise me. I just didn’t know how good I was. I just needed to keep go­ing. I had to keep my­self de­ter­mined, keep mo­ti­vated and keep go­ing so that I could con­quer the world. I just didn’t have that type of ex­pe­ri­ence back then.”

Af­ter dodg­ing some mis­siles from a hos­tile crowd, Curry con­ducts his post­fight in­ter­view with a tacky crown squash­ing down his fash­ion­able shag hair­style. Tellingly, the in­stant ITV’S Gary New­bon low­ers his mi­cro­phone, Curry re­moves the plas­tic tat and walks over to greet Jones. Curry’s lack of bravado made him stand out from the crowd, but it also made him easy to avoid.

“It was kind of show­ing off and that’s what box­ing is all about,” he said. “I know we’re sup­posed to en­ter­tain the crowd but at that time I was more spir­i­tual and be­ing more obe­di­ent to the spir­i­tual laws rather than the box­ing laws. I found out that box­ing was all a game and I re­alised that I was participating in it. I wasn’t about all that brag­ging or talk­ing about how good my skills were. I wasn’t the type to talk about how good this was or that was.”

Box­ing has al­ways at­tracted its share of snake oil sales­men, but as on-screen char­ac­ters like Gor­don Gekko and J.R Ew­ing glam­ourised the pur­suit of money and the un­der­handed, un­scrupu­lous meth­ods of ob­tain­ing it, it was in­evitable that the ‘Greed is Good’ men­tal­ity would gain a foothold in box­ing in the 1980s. In box­ing – as in busi­ness – you don’t get what you de­serve, you get what you ne­go­ti­ate. Al­ways the type to pre­fer a demon­stra­tion to a fancy sales pitch, the more busi­ness-savvy rode roughshod over Curry’s am­bi­tions. He struck oil with the Mccrory vic­tory in 1985, he just had no idea how to cap­i­talise on it.

Pa­trons of the honky-tonks and dance halls of Fort Worth would have given short shrift to com­plaints about half-mil­lion-dol­lar pay days, but Curry’s world had changed and he be­gan to find more sym­pa­thetic ears in the dis­cos and night­clubs of At­lantic City and Las Ve­gas. Un­for­tu­nately for a 25-year-old Curry, a hun­gry and ag­gres­sive Honeyghan was next in line. Curry’s reign was brought to an end af­ter six painful rounds.

It is a harsh anal­ogy to use, but spend any time in Texas and it’s highly likely that at some point you will see a par­tic­u­lar slogan ei­ther sprawled across a t-shirt or hung on the wall of a dive bar. Apparently a riff on an old bumper sticker, “Please God, give me one more oil boom,” it reads. “This time I prom­ise not to piss it away.”

“I en­joyed the peo­ple com­ing and prais­ing and telling me that I was great,” Curry said. “That was kind of cool. I got caught up in that too, but that’s part of the game. I was young and who doesn’t want to be praised?

“I was in the game to make money. I made $750,000 to fight Mil­ton Mccrory. For my next fight I’m look­ing for a mil­lion. I know I’m not get­ting a mil­lion to fight Lloyd Honeyghan. I got into the game to fight for money and now I have to go back and fight for $500k? I was young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced and I got caught up in that more than any­thing else. I got more caught up in that than the fight. I was so frus­trated and de­pressed go­ing into the fight.

“It wasn’t re­ally all a weight prob­lem. What re­ally caused the weight prob­lem was that I’d just knocked out Mil­ton Mccrory, the big hope from the Kronk Gym. He went two rounds. That was easy. I got kinda caught up in that. When Lloyd Honeyghan’s name came up: ‘Who?’ It killed my mo­ti­va­tion.

“I’d been box­ing all of my life and I didn’t even know the guy. It wasn’t that he couldn’t fight, he just had no no­to­ri­ety. If I’d fought some­body with some no­to­ri­ety, I would have got paid and that’s what I wanted.”

In 1986, oil prices slumped and the Texas Oil Bust be­gan claim­ing vic­tims. Curry earned his rep­u­ta­tion dur­ing the power vac­uum which ex­isted be­fore Mike Tyson’s stun­ning emer­gence and Su­gar Ray Leonard’s re­turn

I JUST DIDN’T KNOW HOW GOOD I WAS. I JUST NEEDED TO KEEP GO­ING”

to de­feat Marvin Ha­gler, but in the same way that the glut of oil brought an end to the good times for Texas’ oil in­dus­try, the de­feat to Honeyghan and sud­den in­flux of su­per­stars sent Curry’s stock plum­met­ing. He was left with no op­tion but to be­lat­edly be­gin ex­plor­ing mar­kets he should have ex­ploited ear­lier.

He was KO’D by Mike Mccal­lum in his first at­tempt at a 154lb world ti­tle in 1987, and al­though he even­tu­ally won and lost the WBC su­per-wel­ter­weight belt, the once el­e­gant cham­pion be­gan to look more and more di­shev­elled. Con­sec­u­tive knock­out losses to Michael Nunn (for the IBF mid­dleweight ti­tle) and Terry Nor­ris in 1990 and 1991 re­spec­tively brought down the cur­tain on his ca­reer.

“I just got caught up in my own dreams and my own feel­ings about that [busi­ness] part of the game. Early on, I was dream­ing a dif­fer­ent dream. Back then I was dream­ing of per­fect­ing my jab and my right hand, my hook and my up­per­cut and on do­ing what I said I was go­ing to do. That would have got me there. If I’d stayed fo­cused on jabs, hooks, that right hand and smash­ing that face, I’d have been OK.

“I was still young and made some mis­takes and found my­self in sit­u­a­tions that I didn’t have too much un­der­stand­ing of and hop­ing that I’d made the right choice. I was young and had no his­tory with the busi­ness and even though I turned into a peo­ple per­son, I had no real ex­pe­ri­ence of deal­ing with peo­ple ei­ther. That was a ma­jor, ma­jor sce­nario in my mind and my box­ing ca­reer. If you’re in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness, you have to be an en­ter­tainer and talk about how I whipped this boy’s ass and things. At that time I just didn’t have that men­tal­ity.

“It doesn’t bother me now. Now that I’ve got older, I re­alise that I lost due to the in­ex­pe­ri­ence of those around me when it came to box­ing, be­cause peo­ple with ex­pe­ri­ence could see what I needed. I just didn’t have those kind of peo­ple around me. That’s what will make me a great trainer or great coach, be­cause there were a lot of mis­takes made. You may say that I had a great ca­reer but there were still a lot of mis­takes made.

“If you’re talk­ing about the ‘80s then I’m in the con­ver­sa­tion. I’m sat­is­fied with that. If you’re a fan of the 1980s, you can’t miss my name.”

With time on his hands, he be­came em­broiled in a series of gaudy un-curry like in­ci­dents. In 1995 he was fully ac­quit­ted af­ter be­ing in­dicted in a drug con­spir­acy case, but in 1996 he did find him­self briefly be­hind bars for fail­ing to make child sup­port pay­ments. As he sought to claw back his le­gal costs, a sad, con­trived come­back in 1997 left him beaten and em­bar­rassed at the hands of one Em­mett Lin­ton, a fighter he trained af­ter his first re­tire­ment from the sport. It seemed a drawn out and undig­ni­fied end for one of the era’s classi­est op­er­a­tors.

With that, Don Curry dis­ap­peared into the shad­ows.

“What did you find out about me that you didn’t know be­fore you in­ter­viewed me?” Curry laughed as our con­ver­sa­tion drew to an end.

Not enough. It is im­pos­si­ble to cram a life like Curry’s into a one-hour con­ver­sa­tion and 2,000-odd words. I want to know how a quiet man dealt with both the time in­side prison and the stigma that fol­lows some­body around af­ter­wards. I want to know more about his life in box­ing ex­ile. I want to know about ev­ery­thing.

Hope­fully, I don’t have to wait an­other 20 years to find out.

RE­CENT TIMES: Curry [right], pic­tured along­side his friend, Sid Kennedy Jnr

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